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Conceptualizing product quality: the case of wine Steve Charters and Simone Pettigrew Marketing Theory 2006; 6; 467 DOI: 10.1177/1470593106069932 The online version of this article can be found at: http://mtq.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/6/4/467

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Volume 6(4): 467–483 Copyright © 2006 SAGE www.sagepublications.com DOI: 10.1177/1470593106069932

article

Conceptualizing product quality: the case of wine Steve Charters Edith Cowan University

Simone Pettigrew University of Western Australia

Abstract. This study investigated wine drinkers’ perspectives on how product quality is conceptualized. The research was carried out because the dominant paradigm for quality within the marketing literature is perceived quality, and as such it is important to understand how consumers construct frameworks to understand quality and specifically whether they share this perception of the particular importance of the notion of perceived quality. Qualitative processes were used to obtain data from 60 informants. The findings indicate that consumers can adopt subjective or objective frameworks, with some also leaning towards relative and absolute quality positions. These conflicting frameworks are resolved by using an interactionist perspective, which allows quality to mediate the varying quality correlates noted in the marketing literature. Key Words consumers objective quality quality conceptualization subjective quality wine



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Introduction This article results from a study of drinkers’ understanding of wine quality. The focus is on how the idea of quality is conceptualized by consumers and how that conceptualization compares with marketing theory. Quality is an abstract concept which is generally considered difficult to define (Garvin, 1984, 1987; Sweeney and Soutar, 1995; Zeithaml, 1988). Indeed, this difficulty means that many marketing researchers who comment on quality in relation to other issues, such as cues, offer no practical definition (Day and Castleberry, 1986), or merely refer to ‘perceived quality’ (Bolton and Drew, 1991; Jacoby and Olson, 1985). In apparent support of

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such caution one philosophical perspective is that quality can be recognized but never explained (Pirsig, 1991). This complexity means that consumer researchers have developed different ways of trying to understand not so much quality itself but how consumers formulate quality judgments. This involves investigating factors termed the correlates of quality (Garvin, 1984), which are either antecedents to or the results of product evaluation. However, much less investigated, but also relevant, is how consumers themselves approach quality, including how they conceptualize it. As this study investigated consumers’ understanding of the concept of quality using wine as the medium for the research, the findings presented here do not in themselves resolve the conundrum of what product quality is. However, they do offer an account of the varying ways in which the drinker conceptualizes wine quality which may well have a wider applicability. Although this research was focused on wine as a product, the fact that wine consumption may be in part an aesthetic process (Charters and Pettigrew, 2005) means that the conclusions of this research might have wider applicability – especially to products such as music, fashion and art.

Context Categorizing wine quality The Macquarie Dictionary (Delbridge and Bernard, 1998) offers a number of definitions for quality, but essentially one is important for this study: excellence or superiority. These terms tend to be those used in marketing research whenever a specific definition is offered (e.g. Zeithaml, 1988). There are in fact two distinct ideas in the designation of superiority or excellence. Superiority is a relative concept – it must be compared against others of a product type in order to be deemed better. Excellence, however, is discrete. The product must be excellent or not excellent, and that judgment is independent of any other products in the class. Steenkamp (1989, 1990) has offered one thoughtful examination of the concept. He notes that quality may be used within varying frameworks, and he proposes four main interpretations of the concept. There is the metaphysical where quality is construed as excellence. This analysis has its roots in the Greek definition of quality as the ‘ideal’ (Oliver, 1997). The second is in the field of economics where price and value are closely connected with quality. In production management quality is seen to be related to processes, to ensure fitness for purpose, or ‘total quality management’. Fourthly, from the marketing perspective (especially in consumer research), quality is thought to reside in the consumer – hence the idea of perceived quality (Jacoby and Olson, 1985; Zeithaml, 1988). Wine is an ideal product for an examination of how quality is conceptualized. The product category ranges from basic to premium (Charters, 2002). Beverage wines can cost as little as £1.00 per litre out of a barrel, while ultra-premium wines constitute luxury goods costing up to £105,000 at auction for a single bottle

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(Anon, 2003). Several official categorization systems have been developed to ‘guarantee’ and to grade the quality of the product. These include the appellations of Europe (Robinson, 1999), which determine ‘quality’ by conformance to origin, and the various classification systems (which grade wine, usually according to its price) operating in places as diverse as Bordeaux and Australia (Caillard and Langton, 2000; Markham, 1998).

A framework for quality Many researchers have attempted to categorize the ways in which quality can be understood (Garvin, 1984; Holbrook and Corfman, 1985; Steenkamp, 1990). These approaches often conflict, and consequently a specific framework for quality is presented here to assist in reconciling these competing perspectives. This framework comprises two related but distinct dichotomies – the objective/subjective and the absolute/relative conceptual frameworks. Objective quality can be defined as quality measured by external and demonstrable criteria, as with the aerodynamics of a car. Subjective quality exists as a personal experience only, such as attractiveness or other aspects of the car’s design. Absolute quality is fixed, timeless and independent of other variables. Were it to exist in cars, then perhaps a case could be made for a Rolls Royce possessing absolute quality. Relative quality, however, exists only in relationship to other factors, for instance to price or changing personal tastes. A specific type of Daimler from the early 1980s may have been the epitome of quality in its time, but performance and tastes have moved on and its quality is now outdated. Although not formulated as explicitly as this, such a framework has been alluded to in the marketing literature (Holbrook and Corfman, 1985). The proposed framework is expressed graphically at Figure 1. The figure suggests that each of the conceptual frameworks of quality can exist independently and in various combinations. For example, a great piece of music may be described as exhibiting both absolute and objective quality (Holbrook, 1999). The performance management approach leads to relative but objective quality, which is externally verifiable, but only existing in relation to other discrete variables, such as price or specification. The overlap of subjective and relative quality, the least quantifiable, and most fluctuating, generally reflects the perspective within the discipline of marketing of perceived quality. Subjective but nevertheless absolute (unchanging) quality is arguably uncommon, but could represent a position which sees the individual as the arbiter of quality, yet determines that quality in isolation from other variables, such as price, or the situation of consumption. While there is a crossover between some of the conceptual frameworks, the dichotomous frameworks (absolute/relative and objective/subjective) do not interact in this model as logic suggests something cannot be both objective and subjective or relative and absolute. At least three of Steenkamp’s (1989, 1990) four categories of quality appear to fit into the framework (although Steenkamp (1989) would not necessarily accept this analysis). Absolute quality has a metaphysical (perhaps even spiritual) significance. The performance management approach

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Figure 1 A framework for quality

suggests objective quality, externally verifiable in accordance with a specification and performance targets. Subjective quality, the least quantifiable and most fluctuating, generally reflects the idea of perceived quality as generally adopted within the discipline of marketing. Relative quality (at least in relationship to price) can be equated with the economists’ viewpoint.

The correlates of quality The difficulty apparent in pinning down the nature of quality has resulted in a number of marketing academics focusing on what may be called the correlates of quality (Garvin, 1984). One can consider these the many concrete and abstract factors which collectively connect directly with quality and thus define its boundaries, or which interlock to locate the abstract idea of quality. Some of these are of general application to all products and are thus considered below. Some are specific to individual products (such as grape variety as a cue to wine quality) and as such are excluded from this discussion. As their name suggests, correlates interact with each other. Thus Quester and Smart (1998) have argued that the consumer’s involvement, the price of the product and the situation of consumption together inform how a wine will be assessed. The correlates can be categorized as being impersonal (external to the consumer) or personal – internal to the consumer him or herself. Impersonal correlates include the following: • Attributes – which Steenkamp (1990) claims are the elements of the product which consumers actually desire but which they may have difficulty establishing in advance of consumption.

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• Cues – the signals a product gives which may lead to a quality judgment (Jacoby et al., 1971; Olson and Jacoby, 1972). The most investigated cue is price (Monroe and Krishnan, 1985), but brand, packaging, country of origin, advertising, recommendation and place of purchase are also relevant. Cues may be intrinsic – an indivisible part of the product itself, such as the colour of wine – or extrinsic and thus external to the product, such as the name of the winemaker (Olson and Jacoby, 1972). • The situation of consumption – which is well established as having an impact on the consumer’s response to and evaluation of the product (Belk, 1975). Belk (1975) has suggested that situational factors include physical and social surroundings, time, mood and the purpose of consumption. Additionally it is suggested that there are a number of personal correlates of quality: • Value – which is a multi-faceted concept (Holbrook, 1999). In the economic sense value has a complex relationship to price and quality (Holbrook, 1994; Sweeney and Soutar, 1995), but unlike price is rooted in the consumer’s perception. • Satisfaction – defined as ‘an evaluative judgement of need satiation’ (Mano and Oliver, 1993: 462), although whether or not satisfaction is a precursor to perceived quality or its result has been debated (Oliver, 1997). • Values – which have been linked to quality prediction by the means-end chain (Gutman, 1982). • Consumer involvement level – This has been related to the impact of price as a cue (Lichtenstein et al. 1988), as well as the overall evaluation of quality (Charters and Pettigrew, 2006). Correlates, however, do not in themselves explain how consumers conceptualize quality. Rather, they show how marketing academics try to place an abstract, perhaps ultimately indefinable, idea. Correlates may be relevant to how consumers predict, shape or respond to quality, but they are not quality in themselves. This article aims to shift the emphasis from the academic perspective by investigating how consumers actually conceive quality, using the model at Figure 1 as the framework for that investigation. This understanding will be helpful to marketers and academics alike by exposing the varying, sometimes contradictory, assumptions which consumers make about product quality, particularly in aesthetic and quasiaesthetic products.

Process The exploratory nature of this study required methods that could provide access to conscious and unconscious ideas and emotions. Two qualitative methods were selected in the form of individual interviews and focus groups. The former allowed specific ideas to be probed in detail (Douglas, 1985) while the latter enabled a wide

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range of topics to be covered (Calder, 1977; Morgan, 1988). The focus groups included a short wine-tasting session in which participants were asked to express their responses to four wines. This approach was particularly useful in allowing unconscious perceptions and contradictions to be scrutinized (Bristol and Fern, 1996). The research was carried out in metropolitan and rural locations in three Australian states – New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia. Sampling was purposive as wine drinkers with a wide range of consumption practices were explicitly sought. In total 60 informants were sourced, of whom 25 were interviewed individually and 35 in focus groups. Informants were classified as low-, medium-, or high-involvement drinkers based on their purchase habits and wine-related knowledge. Segmenting by involvement level was particularly useful in the focus groups as this prevented them from being dominated by more experienced drinkers at the expense of contributions from those with lower involvement levels (Morgan, 1988). Informants were obtained by a range of methods including personal contact and the use of third party recruiters (the idea of ‘marriage brokers’ (Douglas, 1985)). A range of ages and a balance of gender were obtained. All interviews were audiotaped to facilitate subsequent analysis. The focus groups were also video-taped to capture facial expressions and body language (Morgan, 1988; Wallendorf and Belk, 1989). This was important in the focus groups because of the participant interaction and the tasting processes occurring. In addition field notes were kept of each event. The recordings and field notes were transcribed and then imported into NUD•IST for analysis. From the start of data collection a process of analysis and cross-comparison of responses was used. This was to begin the analytic process by developing categories of data (Janesick, 1994) and refine later data collection. Emerging themes were thus able to pervade subsequent data collection, which helped to add plausibility to ideas as they arose (Huberman and Miles, 1994) and to uncover potential ‘negative instances’ (Douglas, 1985: 49).

Themes Just as the academic perspective on the nature of quality varies, fluctuating between perceived and absolute, objective and relative, so the wine consumers interviewed displayed different ideas about the character of quality as perceived in wine. In terms of these fluctuating, unexpected relationships, the subjectiveobjective dichotomy appears most critical, although the distinction between absolute and relative quality is also relevant. The following sections provide an account of how informants’ views on wine quality were aligned with the four types of quality depicted in Figure 1. A discussion then follows of the nature of the interactions that were perceived to exist between these types of quality.

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Subjective quality The perspective of many informants was that wine quality is subjective and as such is dependent on individual perception: Cleo: I just find the [wines] that I like – so they are, of course, good quality – because they taste good to me.

Although subjectivity was offered as a perspective across the range of informants, there was a tendency for the view to be expressed more by low-involvement drinkers than those with higher levels of involvement. Low-involvement informants regularly talked about ‘the eye of the beholder’ when asked to discuss the nature of quality. Some high involvement informants also took this stance, but less commonly. For some informants the issue of quality was related very closely to the concept of personal taste, and they argued that personal taste and the quality of a wine were coterminous, as the following extract suggests: Dan: [Wine quality is] a bit like art – it’s in the eye of the beholder. My tastes are relatively individual. I’ve sampled a few wines that have won awards and thought ‘yep, they’re nice.’ I’ve sampled wines that have won awards and thought ‘yep, ok leave that.’ . . . It doesn’t matter how many awards a cabernet sauvignon wins, I know that I’m not going to like it.

The idea that Dan expounded was essentially that experts may be right in their judgments but equally their taste may not coincide with his. What matters is his own personal taste, which may be idiosyncratic but effectively determines what wine quality is for him.

Objective quality In contrast to the idea that wine quality is a subjective concept, many informants described it as objective. Whilst not quite as common a viewpoint as the subjectivist position, it was nevertheless widely supported. In this case quality is considered to be intrinsic in the product itself, rather than part of the individual’s response, and assessed by external criteria. Before the following comment Simon had been questioned about whether or not quality is innate in wine or part of the consumer’s experience: Simon: I really do feel [quality is] inherent and I feel anyone can pick a bad wine. It just tastes – it doesn’t taste right. Or if it tastes like vinegar, or it tastes really flat.

Simon has two points. The first is that quality exists in the drink itself and is thus an objective aspect of consumption. The second view, one that was also adopted by a number of other informants, is that most people are able to apprehend quality – or at least the absence of quality – even if they have little experience with the product. Objectivist positions appear to function in two ways. The first is based on production methods. Thus for some the objective nature of wine’s quality is rooted in how the product had been made, whether in the excellence of the grapes or what the winemaker does in the winery. For others the quality is objective only as the

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wine is assessed in the glass and production factors need have no bearing on it. The protagonists of this latter line often had a series of checks to assess a wine’s quality: criteria such as balance (of the component parts) and intensity and complexity (of flavour). In both forms, however, the objectivist position was usually described explicitly as being in contrast to a more subjective stance. It tended to be advocated more by high-involvement drinkers than those with a lower involvement level. The recognition of objective quality did not automatically inform preference. Many informants, of all involvement levels, accepted that high quality exists and is distinct from personal preference; thus one may chose to drink a lower quality wine because, despite a higher quality alternative, it is more to one’s taste (Charters and Pettigrew, 2003). This in turn reflects ideas noted in previous research that after consumption consumers often refer to affective judgments (‘I like . . . ’) rather than evaluative ones (‘I think . . . ’) (Day and Castleberry, 1986). It may be that this split between evaluation and choice marks the distinction between satisfaction and quality. It has been suggested that one can be dissatisfied with high quality or satisfied with low quality (e.g. Oliver, 1997).

Relative quality The idea of relative quality suggests that quality only exists in relation to other factors, and indeed that quality varies according to those factors. The relativist position was quite commonly held, although without the density of responses associated with either the objective or subjective approaches. However, it is necessary to note the similarity in the positions of those who held that quality is subjective (purely personal) with those who argue that it fluctuates according to circumstance; both operate very much from the perceived quality perspective, where quality is based on an individual’s own assessment. Indeed, some informants adopted both a relativist and a subjectivist position, either contemporaneously or at varying stages in their interview. Inevitably if quality is perceived to be relative, then it must be relative to something. The key factors which informants suggested as determinants of relative quality were price, fashion and the consumption situation. These are discussed below. Price The most widely perceived form of relativity expressed was that of quality to price. Thus, in a focus group discussion about quality in both wine and food, George started by talking about quality generally as an abstraction before relating it specifically to wine in the following statement: George: There are three things that come down to it, and this is my personal opinion. One is taste, the other is convenience and the other is price. Not in priority but in that order from a food point of view. From a wine point I don’t think convenience comes into it – which boils down to . . . taste and price.

For George, quality is therefore about the relationship of taste to price. This price relativity was perceived to be significant by some informants of every involvement level.

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Fashion Beyond the relationship with price, quality may also be seen to be relative to current fashion: Siobhan: Sometimes shiraz is in, sometimes pinot’s in, or whatever . . . When I was living in Britain, [certain areas of France] were very trendy, depending on when. In the ’80s they were in; in the ’90s they were out.

Varieties or regions may fluctuate in popularity and Siobhan perceived this to have a relationship to quality. This concept of trends or fads in taste was noted by a few informants – but all of them high-involvement, suggesting that it was those with the interest to track changes in consumption patterns over time who registered this form of relative quality. A recent example of this is the effect of the Oscarwinning film Sideways on sales of pinot noir wines. These wines, praised by one of the film’s protagonists, increased sales volume in the United States by 57 per cent in the immediate aftermath of the film’s release (Roby, 2005). Situation Quality may also be relative to the consumer’s situation of consumption. Thus: Damian: You know it does depend on the occasion, the weather. Briony: [It varies with] what you’re drinking and what kind of mood you’re in.

Those adopting a relativist stance nominated numerous situational factors capable of influencing the process of wine evaluation. The weather, one’s mood, whether one chooses to eat red meat or fish or the fact that one is at a barbecue rather than a formal dinner can affect the quality of wine for those who adopted a relativist stance – although situation was perceived by others to influence the process of wine evaluation rather than its intrinsic quality level.

Absolute quality A few informants considered that wine quality is externally fixed or absolute, though this was a much less commonly held view than the relativist position. The absolute view of quality was held by a few medium- and high-involvement drinkers, with hardly any low-involvement drinkers giving any indication that quality exists as a fixed point outside their consumption experience. The practical impact for most informants with an absolutist standpoint was that the quality of the wine exists irrespective of their ability to detect it. This viewpoint differs from the objective because, whilst both are established by factors external to the consumer, the criteria used for objective quality could change with time, whereas the absolute is fixed. Interviewer: What do you understand about quality in wine? Waldemar: I probably will use two definitions. One is an absolute quality and this is something that you see in the Mount Maries and the Granges of this world – or Hill of Grace. I also see quality through a value for money prism, and I don’t think that it is fair to compare a $15 wine against a $40 wine. But in terms of value for money, very often a $15 wine offers you significantly more than a $40 wine.

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Quality, in the first definition, was perceived to inhere in the wine and to have no relationship to the drinker, nor to other external factors. It is unchanging whatever the situation of consumption. Waldemar, in this example, equated this absolute quality to certain expensive and very reputable brands. However, he did not see absolute quality as the only means of establishing how good a wine is. His second definition, that quality is relative to the price of a wine, meant that, although there is an element of confusion in his approach, Waldemar seemed to take both an absolute and a conflicting relativist position. Although the absolutist standpoint was adopted by a few informants, Waldemar was the only one who explicitly adopted the paradoxical approach of uniting it with a relativist position.

Quality as an interactionist concept Despite the apparent certainty with which some informants seemed to conceptualize quality, many were reluctant to hold a single perspective – merely objective or subjective, or absolute or relative. Rather, they shifted from one perspective to another at varying times during interviews or focus groups. The overlap of subjectivist and relativist concepts has already been noted, and those who took an objectivist perspective also often merged it into an absolute position. Beyond this, however, a few explicitly maintained paradoxical or dichotomous stances. This exemplified what can be termed an interactionist perspective; quality can exist in a number of modes at once, even if this is inconsistent. In this way the different modes – absolute, objective, subjective and relative – do not just intersect, but interact together to form an understanding of wine quality. Such an interpretation is essentially an etic approach, although a few informants explicitly saw this interaction between different concepts of quality as crucial to their conceptualization: Laura: It might be a good, high quality wine out there in the general consensus – but for me, I wouldn’t buy it, because it does have the oak. Quality does become a personal thing to a certain degree as well.

For Laura – who had previously articulated an ‘objectivist’ concept of quality – the objective factor in this instance (the use of oak) was perceived as unpleasant, even though many other consumers might respond positively to it. She thus moved from an objective (the judgment of the ‘general consensus’) to a subjective stance via the idea of ‘personal taste’. The dichotomous absolute/relative conceptualization has also already been noted, articulated by Waldemar and occasionally implicitly suggested by others. The interactionist viewpoint was sometimes even quantified, so that ‘objective’ quality, for example, comprised a specific proportion of total quality: Bella: I don’t care how great the reputation is – that’s my personal choice and I don’t think you can . . . speak for everyone what you think is a quality wine. It’s something you’ve got to discover on your own. Interviewer: You’re suggesting quality is personal – subjective? Bella: Well I think you can probably say that [for] 70/80 per cent . . . things like the harvest, the grape, the time of year, region – you can get that right. And you can probably speak generally

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for most people, and say ‘most of you will like this wine’. But then when it comes down to it, are you a white or red person? Do you like sweet or dry? Is it something you can drink glass after glass of or do you stop at one and think, ‘You know, I’ve had enough?’

Bella saw 70–80 per cent of wine quality as objective and (for her) pertaining to production-related issues. This objective element of quality is communicable to others and may be accepted by them. Then there is another part of quality which is not objective, and perhaps not justifiable to others. This part is the response based on personal taste and hence is subjective. These two elements may interact with each other in an almost quantifiable fashion to produce a resulting judgment about the quality of a wine. This very specific quantification of the ‘objective’ element of quality was repeated a few times, although most did not appear to have such a precise approach to demarcating the two elements. One interesting final point can be made – which has a bearing on the paradox of conceptual quality. Some informants suggested that whilst wine quality itself is objective, its evaluation is a subjective process. The following extracts from a focus group are illuminating: Mike: If you talk about quality in wine, for me it would be complexity. A variety of tastes or feelings associated with the wine. Leo: I think something balanced in the wine. I mean sometimes you can have too much acidity in it but which does not come true . . . Oliver: I’d go along with balance as well – but I tend to incline towards wine with elegance rather than power . . . where you’re getting all the nuances and complexities, not just the one big hit. William: Yeah I’m keen on balance, don’t like wine that’s been, I think, over fussed over by a chemist . . . [later] Interviewer: When you taste wine, or drink wine, how do you evaluate the quality? Mike: I really like it. Roz: Tastes nice. Leo: I think it becomes a personal choice and I think we all taste the wine and some would like it and some of us don’t perhaps find it quite so palatable. And others will really, really enjoy it. It’s just one of those things that happens. William: Lay back and enjoy it.

The group initially gave objective dimensions of quality which are verifiable organoleptically (and in some cases analytically) and susceptible to some level of agreement. These included balance, elegance and complexity. But when asked how they evaluate quality it became a personal process. It is what they sense and enjoy which is the issue, rather than what they can prove. Leo summed it up as personal choice and individual enjoyment, and it seemed that the majority of the group accepted his perspective. At this point the interaction of objective and subjective quality focuses on the objective characteristics of the wine and the inevitable role of personal taste in its assessment. This reflects Steenkamp’s (1990) view that quality is both objective (in the product) and subjective (in the consumer).

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The interactionist perspective bears some relationship to the sociological concept of intersubjectivity, although the latter focuses mainly on the relationship of the subjective and the objective in social relations. The present study offers evidence for an approach which allows congruous concepts to interact (such as the objective/absolute) but also enables the mutually exclusive, such as objective and subjective, to coexist. Whilst this reconciling of opposites primarily operated to resolve the objective/subjective dichotomy, it was also used occasionally for the absolute/relative split.

Discussion The original model of wine quality can be extended by developing the framework outlined earlier (Figure 1). This revised model is outlined in Figure 2 and suggests that the essence of quality can be understood via an interactionist perspective, reconciling not just the compatible frameworks for quality (such as a joint absolute/objective perspective) but also the paradoxical approaches of absolute/

Figure 2 Wine quality and its correlates

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relative and objective/subjective. At the same time, each of the four types of quality mediates one or more correlates of quality in the quality formation process. Thus objective quality mediates product attributes and intrinsic cues, for these are the defined, quantifiable correlates of wine. Likewise subjective quality mediates satisfaction, personal taste and extrinsic cues (other than price) into the quality formation process, for these correlates relate closely to the individual’s personal response to the product. Relative quality is crucial in this model, for it is the point at which quality meets economic value, price and the situation of consumption. These three correlates are all perceived to be core precursors to quality within the marketing literature on the subject. In addition, they all allow for the existence of various ‘levels’ of quality as related to price (which may have both a positive and negative impact on the perception of quality) or the setting of consumption. Absolute quality, it could be posited, mediates the impact of values on the overall quality experience, for values are perhaps the correlate which most closely equates to the individual’s metaphysical outlook. They are focused on issues which relate to the ways in which one’s existence is ordered; a value, as Rokeach (1968) has suggested, is a belief which ‘transcendentally guides actions and judgments’ (1968: 159). However, this relationship is a tentative suggestion which was not explored in detail in this study, hence the link is marked in a broken line in the figure. In the case of satisfaction and value (at least), the relationship between quality and each of the correlates is perhaps a two-way process, with both of the correlates developing and being enhanced as a result of the relationship (Holbrook, 1994; Oliver, 1997; Sweeney and Soutar, 1995). Such a model develops ideas hinted at by some researchers for quality (Steenkamp, 1990) or value (Holbrook, 1994, 1999). However, as already suggested, the focus on perceived quality has generally concentrated attention on the subjective component of the framework. Paradoxes and their possible resolution are not especially popular for marketing pragmatists, but this approach does offer a way forward as a means of understanding how consumers may maintain a series of apparently contradictory ideas about the nature of quality. Importantly it also gives some suggestions about how the different quality correlates, often of a substantially varying conceptual nature, are integrated into the overall process. The idea further explicitly allows for the objective/subjective split between the product and the evaluative process proposed by Steenkamp (1990), where response-related correlates are fixed in the consumer and product-related issues are external and verifiable. This approach to quality may have a relevance to products other than just wine. In particular, an interactionist model may be relevant for those goods where discrimination is an important feature of appreciation and which are consistently the focus of expert appreciation and criticism (for example, fashion, music, jewellery, meals and plays). Such products also regularly face the response that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, suggesting that ultimately the process of criticism is a pointless exercise. To allow an interaction between the objective and absolute (which tend to be the focus of expert analysis) and the subjective and

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relative (more individual responses) may explain how the experiences of the critic and the consumer can co-exist. Importantly, the plausibility of this interpretation is supported by some informants reaching the same conclusion in principle, even if not quite as precisely. For instance, some made comments about being ‘as objective as possible in a subjective field’. Additionally, as noted earlier, others suggested that it is possible to quantify the objective and personal components of quality. These comments show some wine drinkers explicitly expressing a paradoxical position, which is only resolved by an interactionist approach. This attempt to understand how consumers conceptualize the nature of quality in wine bears some similarities to a previous approach to evaluative judgments for another product with a substantial aesthetic dimension – music (Holbrook, 1981). Holbrook (1981) posits an integrative model whereby objective product features produce subjective attribute perceptions resulting in a judgment which may be an affective response. Whilst Holbrook’s study did not deal explicitly with the absolute and relative dimensions of quality suggested in the current research, it would be logical to subsume them in the product features and the attribute perceptions respectively. Such an integration fits closely to the way informants in this research appeared to make sense of the amorphous nature of quality.

Conclusions The key conclusion of this study is that drinkers can experience and share substantially differing perspectives on the nature of quality. Quality was defined in the literature review as both excellence and superiority (Zeithaml, 1988), and it seems likely that wine drinkers use both concepts. The former is a more absolute view of quality; the latter a relativist position. It can also be suggested that, whilst the marketing perspective is that perceived quality is an idiosyncratic process (Garvin, 1984), many wine drinkers may not perceive it that way. Rather, they expect their judgment to be shared by many, perhaps most, other drinkers. The varying conceptualizations offered by informants reflect in their diversity the different categories of quality suggested by Steenkamp (1989, 1990). Some informants considered wine quality to be objective as it has externally verifiable dimensions which can be used to classify a wine whether or not the individual can actually grasp those dimensions. Other informants saw quality as being firmly subjective, rooted in personal taste. Yet others merge both points of view by using preference in distinction to quality (see Charters and Pettigrew, 2003). Additionally, some take a relativist perspective on quality – that it exists in tandem with the product’s price or fashionability, or the situation of consumption. This last view may be held either with or without one of the other conceptual frameworks. Finally, a few also consider quality to be absolute. Ultimately, as a practical solution to this confusion it may be easiest to view wine quality as an interactionist process, balancing all of these perspectives. Nevertheless, with only a few exceptions that is not how drinkers themselves tend

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to view the issue and consequently it can be suggested that quality per se is difficult to market. Current academic thinking considers quality to be subjective and perhaps relative. This means it may be hard for a marketer, who accepts the concept of perceived quality, to make a connection with a consumer who has a completely different conceptual framework for quality and considers it objectively verifiable. Conversely, how does one convey a sense of quality to someone who is firmly subjectivist and believes quality lies only in what they taste and enjoy? This problem is reduced if one is targeting different involvement levels, for it seems from this study that higher involvement consumers will be more willing to accept objective comments about wines. However, the findings also demonstrate that consumers may still have very different conceptual understandings of quality despite sharing a common involvement level. This study was exploratory in nature with a limited sample derived from a single Anglophone country. As a result, quantitative testing of the model is needed to determine its degree of fit to the Australian and world wine markets. Whilst the qualitative approach adopted in this study did not affect its validity from the perspective of obtaining insights about attitudes to wine quality, it could have had an impact on broader conclusions about quality generally and thus on the potential transferability of the research findings. Thus while the model suggested here may be relevant to other products (particularly those of a quasi-aesthetic nature), further research is required to explore the extent of applicability of the model across a range of other product categories to expand its theoretical and practical usefulness.

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Steve Charters lectures in Wine Studies at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia – courses which cover the understanding and appreciation of wine, its varying worldwide styles, the cultural and social context of its consumption and the processes of marketing wine. He is an active researcher, with interests in drinker perceptions of quality in wine, the mythology surrounding wine consumption, the motivation to drink, and the motivations and experience of the wine tourist. He is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Wine Research. Address: Edith Cowan University, 100 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup WA 6027, Australia. [email: [email protected]] Simone Pettigrew is a senior lecturer in Marketing in the Graduate School of Management at the University of Western Australia. Her primary research focus is consumer education and empowerment, with a particular interest in vulnerable populations and health promotion. Her recent work has explored issues relating to alcohol consumption, children’s nutrition, seniors’ mental health, and tourists’ shopping experiences. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Research for Consumers (www.jrconsumers.com). Address: University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia. [email: [email protected]]

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